Flying broken airplanes…

I taxied into position and gave the door one more visual check before starting the takeoff roll. Confident I was now ready to get myself to Teterboro, I brought the power up. As I accelerated down the runway, I felt something holding the airplane back, some kind of resistance. My eyes darted around the instrument panel looking for a clue. Everything checked normal until I glanced at the right wing. The flaps were down in the full forty-degree position. I quickly looked back to the flap controller and then to the indicator, both to the right of the throttle quadrant. They showed normal. I yanked the throttles back to abort the takeoff.

Back on the taxiway again, I shook my head with frustration and wondered if I was being cursed with the very problem I had lied about to the mechanic. My efforts to either raise the flaps back to the up position or come up with an answer to the problem failed.

“You’re back?” the mechanic asked when I walked through the door again.

“It’s the flaps… again. They’re stuck down,” I explained.

“You want me to take a look at it?” he offered.

I nodded. With a flashlight from the hangar, we walked out to the airplane. He went into the cockpit, and I followed. Then he went outside to the left wing, and I followed.

“It’s probably the actuator,” he finally said.

“Can you fix it?”

“Well, I know I can get your flaps back up, but that’s where they’ll stay until you replace the part. That’s a special order item for most anyone.”

I let out a sigh. “Can I use your phone?”

“Right inside on the desk. I’ll work on getting these flaps back up.”

I dreaded having to call Ren with the bad news. How could I tell him my first day on the line had only progressed fifty miles before the problems started? Steve had flown this route in this same airplane for a week without a problem.

“Ren?” I said when he answered. The phone rang at his home when the office was closed.

“Yeah.”

“It’s Beth. There’s a problem.”

“What do you mean?” he asked curtly.

“I’m in Dansville, New York, about fifty miles out of Buffalo. I landed because the pilot door came open in flight. Anyway, I’m on the ground now, and the flaps are stuck down at forty-degrees.”

“Oh, shit! Can’t you get them back up?”

“There’s a mechanic doing that right now, but he said the flap actuator is bad and needs to be replaced. Once the flaps are back up, that’s where they stay until it’s repaired.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, I told you. Once they’re back up, they stay up,” I repeated. “The flaps aren’t working.”

“Haven’t you ever done a no-flap landing?”

I could picture the look on his face, the same one I had seen that day in the classroom when he was talking to Harry. “Sure I have.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“What are you telling me, Ren?” I questioned him on the obvious illegality of what he was suggesting. When I wasn’t carrying freight, flying the airplane was legal with broken flaps, but the minute I took on payload freight, I fell under the commercial aviation regulations of Part 135, and that meant it all had to be in working order.

“You know how to land without flaps. Get in the goddamned airplane and fly it to Teterboro!”

“And then what?”

“What do you mean ‘and then what’?” He was shouting now. “Get back in it and fly to Buffalo. And tomorrow do the same thing all over again. And the next day, and the next day, until the end of the week when it can come back here to be fixed.” His point was very clear. After a moment, he continued, this time not shouting, “Look, Beth, I’m not trying to be an asshole, but I’ve got a business to run. If we can’t make our deadlines to pick up and deliver the freight, then the newspaper will find someone else who can. That’s how this business works—on-time, dependable performance… no matter what.”

“Okay. Hope I didn’t ruin your night, Ren.”

“It takes a lot more than that to ruin my night. Just go get the job done, okay?”

I hung up the phone. It was dark outside, and there was a long night of flying ahead. Even with all that had already happened, it had hardly begun.

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